Remember the Rays series that saved the Red Sox season? It was a mirage

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BOSTON - You know what they say about momentum -- it's only good until the Tigers come to town for a doubleheader.

So much for Tampa Bay. The Red Sox swept the Rays over the weekend in a taut series that featured solid starting pitching, timely offense, and just enough relief to make the Red Sox finally feel like defending champions after three rocky weeks.

We viewed that result with appropriate restraint, however. The lethargy afflicting the Red Sox wouldn't just disappear over a weekend in St. Pete. Come back to Fenway and keep it rolling. Then we could talk.

One doubleheader sweep later, we mourn the loss of their momentum, which slightly outlived the common housefly.

Serious question: Can someone explain what the hell's going on? The Red Sox returned the core of the greatest team in franchise history, virtually everyone's in their prime and healthy, and yet they're still somehow on pace to follow last year's 108-win machine with a 61-win shipwreck.

No one expects them to finish that poorly, of course, but 15 percent of the season is over and the Red Sox have dug themselves a nice little hole.

They visited Tampa last week trailing in the AL East by eight games, left on Sunday trailing by five with renewed life, and two days later find themselves seven back again. That's called two steps forward, one step into traffic.

"It's disappointing," manager Alex Cora admitted. "Obviously you don't want to lose two."

Problems abound. Ace Chris Sale may have struck out 10 in the opener Tuesday, but still struggled to put people away. The Tigers fouled off a staggering 26 pitches, extending at-bats and limiting Sale to five innings as the Red Sox dropped to 0-5 when he starts.

He didn't take the loss because the bullpen took that responsibility off his hands with four horrible innings of five-run ball, the pivotal blow a go-ahead homer off of right-hander Heath Hembree.

The nightcap told a different story, this one featuring offensive futility. The Red Sox went 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position, and 3-4 hitters Mitch Moreland and J.D. Martinez combined to leave 12 runners on base by themselves (Martinez hit into a double play for good measure).

Rookie Michael Chavis at least provided some life in the eighth with the first home run of his career, a 441-foot shot over everything in left, but rookie reliever Travis Lakins gave it right back in the bottom of the frame and the Red Sox went quietly in the ninth.

Such diversity of despair has been the story of their season. As many different ways as the Red Sox won last season, that's how varied their modes of defeat are now. Each night brings a new spin on the wheel of misfortune.

The postgame clubhouse offered a truly jarring juxtaposition, with veterans who perhaps already feel their season slipping away quietly packing up and getting the bleep out while rookies Chavis, Lakins, and Darwinzon Hernandez held press conferences in varying degrees of exuberance -- Chavis over his first homer, and the other two celebrating their major-league debuts.

Maybe an infusion of youthful enthusiasm is exactly what the team needs. The Red Sox clubhouse is an understandably grim place right now. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts, one of the only all-around standouts at the moment, admitted between games that the team would need to play the nightcap with urgency.

The Red Sox played hard, but it didn't matter. That's what happens when you think you have momentum, at least until the Tigers show up for two.

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